DUBLIN - Sometimes on bush journeys in the Papua New Guinea Highlands it was embarrassing to witness five or six year old kids running freely - and safely - back and forth across a single tree-trunk bridge over a rushing river.
The embarrassment was that I then had to be assisted by many hands as I gingerly inched my way across.
Luckily in the Jimi Valley of the then Western Highlands there were many cane bridges, much easier to traverse, which somewhat alleviated my anxiety.
The cane bridge shown in this 1971 photo, was constructed across the Tsau river in the Jimi. The Tsau flows into the Jimi River which progresses into the Yuat and then the mighty Sepik.
In 1971-72 I was based at Karap in the Jimi, which is now part of Jiwaka Province. The Jimi Valley runs parallel to the Wahgi Valley, but there are major differences.
The Wahgi Valley is generally very open and the Wahgi River runs from west to east, its waters ending up in the Papuan Gulf.
The Jimi Valley, by contrast, is very mountainous and its main river, the Jimi, runs east to west with its waters eventually being expelled from the Sepik into the Bismarck Sea at the substantial volume of 8,000 cubic meters a second.
Looking back on my journeys through the Jimi Valley, I now ponder the many cane bridges we encountered. I took them for granted then, but later wondered at the planning and the social cooperation that went into their construction.
If I remember correctly the Leahy brothers encountered these bridges during their early explorations in the 1930.
While stationed at Karap, my pastoral work took me to places like Tabibuga, Manemp, Olna, Magin, Bumbi, Wum, Tsenga, Kumai, Maekmul, Por, Kauil and more.
I also visited Kol on my way to meet Fr Joe McDermott in Ambullua. And I well recall calling at the Nazarene Mission in Tsengoropa and making the trek to visit the Anglican Mission at Koinambi and then trekking on to Masump and Togban.
Many cane bridges were crossed on those journeys. Some were long and high; some were short and low; each a masterpiece of design and construction.
I last visited the Jimi around 1990 and I don’t know if these bridges still exist or not. But I feel sure there are many similar bridges scattered throughout Papua New Guinea, not yet been replaced by bridges of more modern structure.